Maniac Mcgee – How Do You Become A Legend?

Book Review: Maniac Mcgee
Newberry Award Winner

By Jerry Spinelli

Spoiler Alert!



Jeffrey Lionel “Maniac” Magee might have lived a normal life if a freak accident hadn’t made him an orphan. After living with his unhappy and uptight aunt and uncle for eight years, he decides to run–and not just run away, but run. This is where the myth of Maniac Magee begins, as he changes the lives of a racially divided small town with his amazing and legendary feats. (Courtesy of )

Adult Point of View

1991 Newberry Winner.

My first impression of Maniac Magee is running. Is there ever a moment when Jeffrey (Maniac) isn’t running? He has tried to run from unhappiness, misfortune, death and he has mostly tried to run from himself.

Grade school girls in Two Mills still  jump rope and chant:
“Ma-niac, Ma-niac
He’s so cool
Ma-niac, Ma-niac
Don’t go to school
Runs all night
Runs all right
Ma-niac, Ma-niac
Kissed a bull!”

And sometimes the girl holding one end of the rope is from the West side of Hector, and the girl on the other end is from the East side; and if you’re looking for Maniac Magee’s legacy, or monument, that’s as good as any – even if it wasn’t really a bull. (p 2)

Maniac characterizes “being without guile” at the beginning of the book. He doesn’t see race and doesn’t understand the division in the town of Two Mills. He doesn’t understand why some people call themselves black and call him white. He finds multiple colors on his own skin and the only white he can find is the whites of his eyes, but his eyes are no different than the kids with the multi-shades of brown where he currently lives. He can see the similarities of families that are happy on both the East and West side. He has also seen some of the ugly side of hatred on both the East and West sides of the city. He learns to see the misunderstanding between the races.

One of the interesting actions he takes is showing the two extremes of love and hate to another boy from East side. At first, Maniac’s actions seem like the worst thing he could have done. It is interesting because the change does come, slowly, in a legendary fashion. One of the gifts of writing fiction is that the author can make leaps that aren’t plausible, but serve a purpose in developing a theme. In this case, the purpose was to show how we can live as friends with those of different races and beliefs. Spinelli weaves a tale that is simplistic and a little rosy concerning prejudice, however, that is part of the charm of Maniac Magee.

He became a legend because he changed a city, was a hero to small children and made friends with most people. Of course, becoming a friend sometimes came after making an enemy. As he becomes aware of racial hatred he looses his innocence and even goads an enemy by embarrassing him.

I enjoyed this book! I give it a high recommendation for a broad audience.

It has been recommended for 4th-6th graders. I would think 4th grade  is too young; I think it would be better enjoyed for 6-8th graders. I look forward to seeing what my sons think of this book. I think boys will particularly like this book. (My 11 year old and I have begun reading it together.)

There are some minor racial slurs and violence, but much less than could have been used in a book about strained race relations. As a warning there is a kiss in the book, as stated in the quote he kisses a “bull”.

4 out of 5 stars

4 star

  • Michelle


11 Year Old Son’s Point of View

I liked it because it was an adventure!

5 out of 5 stars (I think it should be 10 stars)

5 star


I would also recommend Holes by Louis Sachar, Schooled by Gordon Korman and The Strange Case Of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger.


About Tales Untangled

I am a mother of four children and have a passion for reading. I love sharing my treasury of books with my kids. I also do experiments in cooking which includes such things as Indian Tandoori Chicken slow cooked in a tagine. Weekly I get together with friends and go to yoga for a bit of mommy time. Some may find me quirky, I prefer to think I am one of a kind.
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